Although versions of tales about wizards and magical reindeer from northern Scandinavia are found in European folk and fairytale collections, stories told by the indigenous Nordic Sami themselves are rare in English translation. The stories in By the Fire, collected by the Danish artist and ethnographer Emilie Demant Hatt (1873–1958) during her travels in the early twentieth century among the nomadic Sami in Swedish Sápmi, are the exception—and a matchless pleasure, granting entry to a fascinating world of wonder and peril, of nature imbued with spirits, and strangers to be outwitted with gumption and craft.
Between 1907 and 1916 Demant Hatt recorded tales of magic animals, otherworldly girls who marry Sami men, and cannibalistic ogres or Stallos. Many of her storytellers were women, and the memorable tales included in this collection tell of plucky girls and women who outfox their attackers (whether Russian bandits, mysterious Dog-Turks, or Swedish farmers) and save their people. Here as well are tales of ghosts and pestilent spirits, murdered babies who come back to haunt their parents, and legends in which the Sami are both persecuted by their enemies and cleverly resistant. By the Fire, first published in Danish in 1922, features Demant Hatt’s original linoleum prints, incorporating and transforming her visual memories of Sápmi in a style influenced by the northern European Expressionists after World War I.
With Demant Hatt’s field notes and commentary and translator Barbara Sjoholm’s Afterword (accompanied by photographs), this first English publication of By the Fire is at once a significant contribution to the canon of world literature, a unique glimpse into Sami culture, and a testament to the enduring art of storytelling.